Idol Chatter

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Vegas, Baby: The Addiction That Happens Here…

posted by Esther Kustanowitz

21picforIdolChatter.jpgHaving recently been on my first trip to Las Vegas, I was amazed by how people got sucked into the lifestyle. I don’t have a lot of money, so of course the idea of turning “not a lot” into “a lot,” was very appealing. But as a student of pop culture and cinema, I knew the basic truths: the odds were against me, and the house always wins. After spending $4 at the quarter slot machines–because if the odds were against me, I might as well not even delude myself into thinking my skill had anything to do with winning or losing–I caved to peer pressure. Because my friends were doing it, I played $10 blackjack: $20 investment, got out when it got to $60. People thought I was lame, but I tripled my money and then walked away. I mean, how many movies and TV shows do I have to see about people losing everything in Vegas, before I “get it”?
Vegas is shiny, sparkly, at once the definition of tacky/declasse and the symbol of the American Dream. Where there was desert there is now opulence–this ambiance leads us to believe that anything is possible, that we can transform money troubles into yesterday’s trivia. But film teaches us better: “Leaving Las Vegas.” “Honeymoon in Vegas.” “Indecent Proposal.” “Casino.” “The Godfather 2 & 3.” “The Cooler.” “Swingers.” “Rain Man.” “Showgirls”…and those are just the more contemporary films…we know that the house always wins. (The possible exception: the avowed, yet principled and sexy, criminals of “Ocean’s 11,” 12, and 13–but they were in it primarily for the revenge, the camaraderie, and the challenge of it all–the money wasn’t the central motivator.) And now comes “21,” the movie version of the bestselling book about how a group of MIT students beat the system. All of this Vegasness feeds the fantasy: the little guy can make it big, if he’s smart or figures out the system.


But that’s not the reality. Vegas feeds addictive personalities–people who are inclined to be every gradation of addiction: from shopping and self-pampering (admittedly less destructive behaviors) to those inclined to seek out substances–like alcohol, drugs, sex and money–that have the potential to alter your sense of reality. And that addiction grows in a Petri dish and can lead anywhere from Britney (remember her Vegas wedding?) to “Celebrity Rehab” (people who had it all and still wanted more).
I’m no Bible-thumping teetotaler. I really enjoyed my trip to Vegas, and I’m not fool enough to think that because I tripled my money in an hour of $10 blackjack, that I could invest 10 times that and profit a hundredfold. I enjoy getting away from reality for a few hours. But I always come back to my life. While my friends aren’t alcoholics or drug addicts, I have seen them–otherwise rational people –get sucked in by gambling.
The whole experience left me thinking about the nature of addiction: is it innately born, as in children of alcoholics who have alcoholism in the family? Does it have to do with unhappiness? Is it a competitive spirit, and not a reality-altering one that inspires such a departure? Was the reason I didn’t gamble more because I was too pragmatic? Or was it a rigidity in my character, an inability to believe that the universe owes me something, that held me back from taking a chance? Every time a new Vegas movie comes out, people get a little jazzed by the prospect of feeling involved in it, even for two hours, in the city’s feeling of freedom and infinite possibility that masks the reality–that games of chance are not about control, they’re about letting go and letting gravity take over. And not in the good way.
We know that, and yet, the movies keep coming. What’s your favorite Vegas movie?



  • JTS

    I have to admit, Vegas has an allure that I find enticing– from the shows, restaurants, shopping, gambling, the men and women looking to have fun, because remember…what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”! Right? But does it really?!! I think it almost has a feel of a Sodom and Gommora( spelling?)- If you look back you turn into a pillar of salt sort-of-feel. I think Vegas draws-in the weak and vulnerable. The people with money to spare are often self-depricating in other ways. Vegas is not a healthy place to be when you look at the big picture. However, it can be fun and memorable if you play it safe. Vegas can be anywhere you live- when you think about it. It depends on the individual to keep strong and not cave-in but, walk away like you know how to hold ‘em and fold ‘em.

  • Ronay de Bruegere

    I HAVE A LOT OF FUN WHEN I VISIT VEGAS. I AM NOT A GAMBLER,BUT I HAVE A CLOSE FRIEND FROM NEW YORK WHO BOUGHT A LOVELY HOME THERE. WHEN I VISIT HER WE GO TO PLAY BINGO. SHE PLAYS SIX CARDS AT ONE TIME,I PLAY ONE! WE DO NOT PLAY SERIOUSLY. WE PLAY THE SLOTS,AND ENJOY THAT ALSO. THE LAST TIME I WAS THERE,I PLAYED A MACHINE. AFTER PLAYING FOR FIFTY CENTS!!!,I WON THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!! I BOUGHT A LOVELY JACKET. WE ALWAYS GO SHOPPING,AND HER HUSBAND TAKES US OUT TO A FABULOUS RESTAURANT,AND A SHOW. IF ONE IS A BIG GAMBLER,I THINK THAT IS O.K. IF YOU ARE VERY,VERY WEALTHY. OTHERWISE,THAT PERSON NEEDS TO GET HELP. MY SISTER AND BROTHER LOVE TO GAMBLE THERE. THEY SET A LIMIT,AND NEVER SPEND MORE THEN THEIR LIMIT.THAT IS SMART!THEY SPEND A LOT ON A HOTEL SUITE,AND THEY ALSO SHOP IN VEGAS. SO,THERE ARE WAYS TO HAVE A REALLY GOOD TIME THERE,AND LEAVE THE HEAVY GAMBLING TO THE “BIG TIME GAMBLER”. I AM SURE THE SHOP OWNERS APPRECIATE THE PEOPLE WHO BUY THINGS FROM THEM.MOST OF THE BETTER SHOPS CARRY VERY EXPENSIVE ITEMS. RONAY P.S. MY BINGO PLAYING FRIEND WON A LOT OF MONEY ON BINGO. SHE WAS VERY SURPRISED!

  • cernowain greenman

    Esther, did you actually see the movie “21″? I didn’t think the movie promoted gambling or the lifestyle of Vegas. In the end, the MIT students did *not* break the bank at Vegas. In fact, the movie showed that one’s luck cannot last forever– even if you have a racket going like the professor and the students did. Because eventually the management will catch on and you will get caught and pay the price for your arrogance. And in movie, the group fell apart in the end and turned on their leader.
    The movie also stressed that just in case anyone tried to copy what the MIT gang did that it would not be successful today with modern face recognition software that has been implemented.
    I enjoyed the movie very much even though I’ve never been to Vegas nor gambled in a casino. I think the main idea of the film was that if you play the game, you’d better be savvy and watch your back, because the truth is that there aren’t ever any real winners ever in the end with this game except the house.
    Cernowain Greenman

  • Shortshire

    My favorite Vegas movie is Casino, that is pretty much a classic and that movie probably attracted the wrong type of crowd. It shows that before East Coast Gangsters, Vegas was a whole bunch of yockles that did not see some of the thefts that they could do. That movie helped Vegas realize the many different ways to rob people. Vegas is too much for anyone to handle, after 2 days, just get out. I remember going to the airport 5 hours early just to get out. When i’m there now, I do not stay on the strip i walk off the strip into the city. Vegas will be alluring to everyone until they get there, then they just want to leave.

  • Esther Kustanowitz

    Cernowain, you got me…I did not see the movie. I was just noting that Vegas rises with the promise of glitz and glamour that it rarely delivers… :)

  • cernowain greenman

    Esther, thanks for your admission. I recommend “21″, especially for young folks to see how “all that glitters is not gold”. I know most critics gave the movie a pass or a yawn, but I found it entertaining and thought the story was well-told. It’s not as stimulating as “Leaving Las Vegas” or “Showgirls”, but a good date movie.
    I want to affirm what you said about Las Vegas and your own trip there, and that “21″ confirms your evaluation of the culture there.
    bb.
    Cernowain

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